As well as its spectacular scenery, Australia has a surprising talent for kitsch

Sydney Opera House? Forget it. Uluru? Not interested. The Great Barrier Reef? Who cares? If you want to see what made Australia great, you have to forget about such tourist trinkets and concentrate on the things that will endure as long as Australia itself: the Big Pineapple, the Giant Prawn and the Big Banana.

Compared to those awesome monuments, even Ayers Rock fades into insignificance. I should know, I've been there. It was a surprising, not to say astounding discovery to make at the side of the Pacific Highway in New South Wales, about 2,000 miles from its usual location. The great monolith had shrunk to about 1,000th of its normal size and there were a few other differences, too.

A petrol station sprouted from the foot of its northern slopes and the rock itself was hollow, constructed from glass fibre and emitting the odour of fast food. Inside its souvenir-stuffed innards was an "Australian Experience Theme Park" and a café serving "Mike and Mal burgers", named after the brothers who dreamt up the whole kitsch concept.

The ersatz Ayers Rock is the only Aussie monument that is smaller than the object it commemorates; for the rest, the motto is "think big". If giant bulls, trout, koalas or potatoes don't do it for you, try a giant Scotsman. The 25fttartan marauder has presided over an Adelaide motel (Scotty's, naturally) for 40 years, his immovable glass-fibre kilt defying all attempts by generations of South Australian children to solve the eternal riddle of what Scotsmen wear underneath.

If you're after something more authentically Australian, what could be more fair-dinkum Aussie than a giant Ned Kelly? A vast statue of Australia's own Robin Hood, clutching a rifle and clad in his trademark cast-iron armour, towers over the town of Glenrowan, north-east of Melbourne.

The Big Lobster rearing up over Kingston on the South Australian coast is even larger than Kelly, though mercifully unarmed. The eponymous motel beneath it has the bonus of a bistro where the locally caught shellfish can be devoured under the disapproving gaze of the crustacean.

Then there's the Big Banana: 30ft long, 12ft high and a lurid yellow. It's the dominant feature of a theme park dedicated to the fruit. Coffs Harbour was the first place in Australia where bananas were grown, and there is no danger of anyone being allowed to forget it.

I booked a ride on the monorail shuttle - just about the only thing that wasn't banana-shaped. It departed from the "Aboriginal Dreamtime Cave", where an animatronic Aborigine offered tape-recorded homespun philosophy. To the strains of didgeridoos we lurched out into the sunlight on a tour of the banana plantations.

After 40 minutes of admiring banana plants from every angle, it was back to the Dreamtime Cave and a chance to recover from the rigours of the journey with a chocolate-covered banana on a stick.

What more could an Antipodean heaven hold than this? The answer was not long in coming. A couple of hours' drive further up the coast, rearing up out of the sleepy fishing town of Ballina, was a giant prawn with a small shopping mall where most shellfish only have sand and mud.

The caped crustacean was 90ft high, but its insides proved to contain nothing more than a glazed staircase offering views over the car-park and the roof of the mall, and a small room at the top housing a spectacularly dull collection of statistics about the prawn-fishing industry. The shops clutched in the prawn's scaly embrace also had some way to go to match Coffs Harbour's bananarama of souvenirs so, contenting myself with a small postcard, I headed for the Queensland border.

The Sunshine State is the patron saint of giant replicas, with the Big Pineapple at Woombye a famed attraction. Over 50ft high, it gives a commanding view out over... well, out over a pineapple plantation, actually. Sated with fruit? Then, in the words of the Big Pineapple's lavish brochure: "Hop aboard the fun Nutmobile, which journeys through ancient rainforest and the evergreen nut country to the Southern Hemisphere's largest maca-damia factory - you'll learn all about the world's finest nut."

The offer was irresistible, as were the souvenirs. Having acquired a couple of pineapple-shaped novelties, I vacillated for 10 minutes between a purse made from a flattened cane toad and another fashioned from a kangaroo's scrotum. In the end I bought both.

Further north, on the southern outskirts of Cairns, is a replica to stir the heart of every patriotic Pom - a 15ft Captain Cook standing by the highway that bears his name. His outstretched arm points the way to the continent he discovered, but on my visit an irreverent passer-by had varied the historic pose by climbing up and fixing a can of Queensland's favourite lager in the captain's hand.

To be truly Australian, though, Cook should have been clutching a pavlova in the other one. I haven't found it yet, but somewhere back of Bourke, where civilisation ends and the Outback begins, I just know that the Giant Pavlova awaitsme.

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